Sunday, December 9, 2018

Lenient sentences in the Australian military

The Daily Mail wrote about Australian military members receiving lenient sentences in sexual misconduct cases. They highlighted one case of an Army officer serving three months incarceration for raping a private with a beer bottle. The paper compared his sentence to three individuals convicted of a similar crime, who received 18 months confinement, suspended after six months.

Are the data points cited by The Daily Mail reflective of a global problem for the military in adjudicating sexual misconduct? Or do they ignore the complexity of individualized sentencing? If the Australian military sentences like the U.S. Army, discharging a Soldier then suspending their confinement is neither authorized nor practical. The military seeks to dismiss convicted sex offenders from its ranks, like that Australian captain, not supervise offenders through an ad-hoc probation system. The difference in served confinement may also reflect a discount for the officer's public service, assuming the teenagers did not present as much mitigating evidence.

The better question is whether three-to-six months confinement is within the proper sentencing range for raping someone by instrument. Both sentences strike me as too low, even for first time offenders. But under punishing sexual offenses is not isolated to the military, as the last few years has made clear. Neither Brock Turner nor Jeffrey Epstein wore uniforms when committing their crimes.

Perhaps the answer to disparate sentencing in the military is to adopt formal guidelines, like the U.S. federal system. The most recent change to the UCMJ, effective at the start of 2019, passed on such a system. Not only could such uniformity in sentencing ensure a more equal system, it would also bolster public confidence by countering, at least a little, the perception that military offenders are escaping punishments their civilian counterparts are not.

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